Monday, July 27, 2009

Eavesdropping on Yourself

You probably know by now that when you are mixing down a song, it's a good idea to listen to your mix on a variety of playback systems - car stereo, iPod, computer speakers, home stereo - before committing to your final mix. Different systems will reproduce sound differently, so listening on a wide variety of systems helps you fine tune your mix so that it sounds good wherever a potential listener might hear it.

Over the years, I've discovered another trick has come in handy particularly when I've been mixing for awhile and am having trouble figuring if a particular mix element is too loud/quiet. I simply start playback on my song, and step into the other room and listen from there. For whatever reason, this always helps me easily hear if a mix element is where it needs to be. Perhaps getting out from in front of the speakers just 'resets' things for me, but regardless of the science behind it, it seems to do the trick. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try some time. Do you have any 'unconventional' methods of evaluating a mix?


Felipe Boreli Filho said...

Tom, why the Bass in my pc speakers (subwoofer included) is not deep as my stereo system since I have a dolby pro logic IDT sound control?

Anu said...

People say you should listen to your mix on different sets of speakers, but who wants to have a bunch of speaker sets sitting in a small studio?

I use speaker/amp emulation plug-ins! My default session has one set to a 'broken transistor radio' setting across the master bus, bypassed. When I want a speaker check, I turn it on (it also does stereo -> mono conversion).

May not be quite as good as having an Auratone or Avantone, but it was a lot cheaper and a lot more convenient.

Felipe -
Perhaps you are sitting too close to the speakers? Bass frequencies need distance to propagate.

Seamus said...

As entirely unorthodox as it is in the world of professional mixes, I still mix all my music on a pair of Cambridge Soundworks speakers. Sure, they're definitely not flat-response, but I'm so used to their quirks that it doesn't matter all that much. I've worked on an SSL AWS-900+ with Tannoy nearfields and Quested midfields, and I really cannot say my mix was noticeably better.

k said...

To check for things, I play a track really, really quiet. So that I can barely hear it. And if I can still hear all the main elements, I know I'm good. And if anything (like the snare) jumps out a little too much, I know it's wrong. The louder you mix, the more difficult it is to tell if something's a couple of dBs off. I also always check things in mono and on every system I have, including the crappy internal Mac Pro speaker. :)

Tom said...

Boreli - PC speakers are normally not very good speakers from a technical standpoint. They are usually aimed more at gaming than accurate music reproduction.

Anu - That's a new one by me. Not sure I would totally recommend that (whether you're simulating different speakers or not, they're ultimately still coming out of your speakers which have their own frequency bias that they'd be imparting on top of the speaker simulators), but at the end of the day, all that matters is that you're getting good results, so if it works for you, that's what counts!

Seamus - I often think it can be more important to 'know' your speakers than it is to have top of the line monitors. If you know how music from artists you like sound on your speakers, it definitely isn't impossible to get good mixes out of 'ordinary' speakers.

K - Mixing at low levels is definitely a good idea for many reasons. For one thing, your ears don't fatigue as quickly, but also, on a psychoacoustic level, our brains decode 'louder' as 'sounding better' and it can really distort your perception of the mix.

Felipe Boreli Filho said...

Thank you, Anu and Tom!

Wi_ngo said...

I do this very thing all the time! My "mixing studio" is adjacent to my kitchen, with the speakers facing away from the wall. I started noticing that if I left a track playing when I went to go grab a beverage or something in the kitchen, I would hear things as the sound drifted from the other room that weren't immediately apparent being in front of the monitors.

I also do the low-level thing as well. Loud does too often sound good, regardless of the mix. (Of course the car, ipod, macbook speakers thing always comes into play, too.)

I was mixing for a while on some PC speakers when I didn't have the luxury of good studio monitors. Terrible idea. Even low-end monitors will make a world of difference.